It’s only been two races, but it’s safe to say that Ryan Villopoto is on a roll. After dominating last week’s round at Anaheim 2, the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider made a statement ride in Oakland, grabbing the holeshot in both his heat race and in the final and then leading every lap he was on the track. The main difference in Villopoto over the last two weeks has been his starts: he didn’t get them in rounds one and two, but he’s getting them now.
In Oakland, the start was extremely important thanks to a controversial set of whoops right after the start. It’s not that the whoops were so bad, but it was where they were located: right after the first turn. The riders are already pinned when they come into the first turn and then to try to navigate an obstacle like that while banging bars with 20 other riders can make for a sketchy situation. In the final, Chad Reed got a little out of control in the whoops and collected up several of the top riders in the following turn, including Trey Canard, Josh Grant, Justin Barcia and James Stewart, leaving those guys [and Reed] on the ground. The incident also slowed Ryan Dungey. Meanwhile, thanks to a good start, Villopoto was out in front of the fray and pulling away.
“We had a set of whoops right after the start and that makes it a little bit hairball, along with another set right into a triple,” said Villopoto. “I wouldn’t say it was the greatest idea, but a holeshot makes your life easy and you stay out of those mistakes.”
After lap one, Villopoto systematically pulled away from the rest of the field, running just fast enough to maintain a lead but still not taking too many chances.
“Mistakes were pretty easy to make on this track so I had to try and tip toe around,” said Villopoto. “Once you get a lead it’s tough trying to balance out how hard to push and still not ride too slow on a course like this.”
In the end, Villopoto ended up winning by just over 10 seconds over Davi Millsaps, and at the same time taking a three-point chunk out of Millsaps lead in the overall standings. With four races in the books, Villopoto sits third overall in the standings, eight points behind leader Millsaps.
Davi Millsaps started the day off by winning his heat race. In the final, the Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki rider got another good start, something he’s been doing all year, and then after passing JGRMX Yamaha rider Justin Brayton on the third lap, Millsaps settled into a lonely second place, taking the checkered flag some three seconds ahead of Ryan Dungey.
“It was definitely a long 20 laps,” said Millsaps. “I kind of settled in about halfway and [Villopoto] had a good gap and I knew it would be kind of hard to catch him, so I think I did the best I could to get second, I’m pretty happy with that. I was struggling pretty bad in practice and also in the heat race, but I pulled it together pretty good in the main event and put in a full 20 laps.”
Through the first four rounds, Millsaps has, for sure, been the most consistent rider, which is why he is carrying the red number plate into next week’s race at Anaheim. But he’s also done his homework on the starts. It’s obvious his team has given him equipment that he can win on, as well, and he’s whipped himself into shape. Could this finally be Millsaps year?
Ryan Dungey took a big step forward this weekend with a podium finish, just his second in four rounds. The Red Bull KTM rider looked a little more aggressive this weekend than he’s been earlier in the year. But as with everyone else, it comes down to getting off the line.
“It all boils down to starts, and that’s what I’ve been struggling with,” said Dungey. “Every year the competition gets better and the talent is deeper, so positioning yourself right off the start is key, and it’s going to make your job a lot easier if you get a good start.”
Although he didn’t go down, Dungey got caught up in the second turn boondoggle in the main and was outside the top-10 when he got going. He spent most of the race working his way though traffic and before finally passing Mike Alessi on lap nine. On that same lap, Justin Brayton went down, which moved Dungey into third, a position he would hold to the finish.
Trey Canard went down with Reed in the second turn, but still managed to finish fourth, despite crashing again [this time on his own] which stalled his momentum for a bit.
“I had a pretty decent start, it was great by any means, but I think I was fifth or so,” said Canard. “And then Reed had a squirrely moment in the whoops and ran into three or four guys and I was stuck on someone’s bike and I was stuck there for a while. After that I was working up okay and then I just made a stupid mistake and fell over. I kept going and made a few more passes, but it was a disappointing night, I felt like if I could have stayed up I could have possibly been fighting for a podium spot. But it was a good night, overall. It was a bad night but to come out with a fourth isn’t too bad.”
Canard sits second overall after four rounds, one point ahead of Villopoto and seven behind Millsaps.
James Stewart had another “off” weekend, as he too was taken out in the Reed debacle. The Yoshimura Suzuki rider tried to continue in the race but his throttle had been damaged in the crash and JS7 was forced to pull out. “It’s frustrating – eighth, seventh and 12th and then 19th tonight, but the reason I’m here is that I love being here, I love racing,” Stewart said after the race. “Although the last two weekends have been worse than the first two weekends, I think we’re making some improvements. It’s been a rough season so far, the first four races, but I ain’t gonna quit.”
Chad Reed came into the race hoping for a podium finish. Hot off a fourth at A2, the TwoTwo Motorsports Honda rider had spent the week previous to the race working on suspension settings and according to his mechanic Lars Lindstrom, felt like he had made good progress. Reed actually looked pretty good on the Oakland course, and was fifth fastest in qualifying. However, a mistake in the whoops left Reedy on the ground in turn two along with a whole lot of other talent. After rejoining the race in last [or near last] Reed finished the night in 12th.
Ken Roczen finally got his first win of 2013, the Red Bull KTM rider making a clean pass in early leader Cole Seely to take the lead before pulling away for the “W”. Roczen was on it all night, from setting fastest time in qualifying to winning his heat race over Zac Osborne. In the final, Roczen had a small bobble on the first lap and then another mistake a few laps later that allowed Seely to build a small gap, but in the end, Roczen was by far the fastest guy on the track.
“I didn’t get a good start, and there was a lot of bar banging on that first lap and I almost went down before the end of the lap, it was a really close call,” said Roczen. “I had a really big gap to make up but I did and I finally made the pass and just took it home. I’m super happy with the race, and with my team.”
Troy Lee Designs/Lucas Oil/Honda’s Cole Seely led the first 11 laps of the 250 main, but couldn’t hold off a hard charging Roczen. Still, Seely was pleased with his second place finish. “I got off to about a third or fourth place start and then Savatgy and Roczen got together in the rhythm lane and I took advantage of it and moved into the lead,” said Seely. “I could feel Roczen behind me and I could hear the crowd cheering, and he made a little mistake on the second or third lap and gave me a bit of breathing room. But he slowly caught back up to me, he was running a really fast pace, and I just did what I could and rode as fast as I could for as long as I could and came home with second.”
Rockstar Energy Suzuki’s Jason Anderson turned in his best performance of the year with a solid third in the 250 main. “I got a good start and I made a pass at the beginning and just hung out in third the rest of the race,” said Anderson. “I was hoping I would progress a little sooner than this, I felt like I could have had a couple of better races, and not qualifying in Phoenix was a bummer, but I’m happy with tonight and where we’re going right now, I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Eli Tomac came into Oakland riding a wave of confidence after winning the first three rounds of the series. But as it’s been all year, the start is ever so important and the GEICO Honda rider has been struggling in this department all year. Once again, Tomac failed to get a good start, and while he’s been able to overcome that by working his way though traffic at the first three rounds, this time it bit him. Trying to make up ground, Tomac crashed twice on the oprning lap, the second one coming in the whoops, leaving his bike in bad enough shape that it had to be pushed off the course.
“It was a frustrating night, for sure,” Tomac said. “I didn’t get the kind of start that I wanted and wound up getting in a big pile up. I was able to get back up from that but a little while later I just lost it in whoops.”
For Tomac, this season is looking a whole lot like last year’s when he had to come back from a bad race. With five races remaining on the schedule, Tomac now trails new leader Ken Roczen by 15 points and second place Cole Seely by four points in the West division.
“The competition is so close in this class that you can’t afford to have bad nights like this,” Tomac said. “I’ll just head back, focus on my starts and get ready for next week. It’s a bump in the road, but there still time to come back and get the red plate back.”